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Eddie Redmayne back in earnest again

After playing the role of 'Magizoologist' for the third time in the Fantastic Animals franchise, one of Hollywood's most accomplished actors and Oscar winner is ready to take the stage as a real criminal.

Last summer, after finishing acting under the direction of Tobias Lindholm in his latest film, The Good Nurse, and just before starting rehearsals for the Olivier Awards 2022-winning revival of Cabaret, Eddie Redmayne went back to school. This is not a university or some kind of adult education course, but a very specific and renowned academic institution: the École Internationale de Theatre Jacques Lecoq, more commonly known as the school for clowns.

In Paris, in a renovated former 19th century gymnasium, Redmayne attended a Theatre of the Absurd course for a fortnight where he spent time, as he puts it, 'improvising and playing'. High school clowning, however, is no joke at all. The course was very demanding and the instructors, who had the honour of studying with the legendary Lecoq in the past, were extremely honest and even strict. "It's not enough to put on a pair of white gloves like children do," Redmayne tells me as he mimics a lecturer who demands more commitment, expression and credibility. "Non, je ne marche pas!" he jokes, waving a finger threateningly in front of his nose. No, I'm not buying it.

Redmayne's classmates ranged in age from 18 to 60 and all came from the professional acting background. He was, however, the only one to have won an Oscar for Best Actor and the only one to have starred in a billion-dollar film franchise. Yet, he felt like an absolute amateur. That was exactly the point. He wanted to start afresh to lay himself bare and try to free himself from all the tics or acting patterns accumulated over a 20-year career. "I needed it badly," he says about his experience at the Lecoq academy. "I wanted to remind myself how necessary it is to keep learning."

We are sitting in a hotel suite in Toronto, a couple of days after his 4-year-old son Luke finally started attending his school in London. Redmayne is a caring parent and would not have missed Luke's first day for anything in the world, but soon after he had to leave home and fly to the world premiere of The Good Nurse at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). Redmayne's family, also consisting of his wife Hannah Bagshawe, a publicist, and their six-year-old daughter Iris, followed him to New York during the filming of the movie, but they did not see fit to let the children miss the settling-in phase at school for the festival. "I didn't feel it was appropriate to leave all together on the second day after classes started," he says, smiling sweetly as he thinks of his children.

Redmayne's kindness is well known and unbelievable, on a par with that of George Clooney, Hugh Jackman and Tom Hanks. He was busy all morning with the press and our interview hour would inevitably stretch into lunch, yet he greeted me with such enthusiasm that I feared I had been mistaken for room service. Redmayne has already been to TIFF five times, but after two years of pandemic purgatory all the usual aspects of a festival, from the traditional red carpets, to the crowds of selfie-seeking fans, to the journalists exhausting you with their barrage of questions, have acquired, at least for him, a new intense flavour.

He said he was genuinely thrilled to be back, as well as to have the opportunity to engage in this particular chat. "I've never done a proper interview," he says, curling up in an armchair with a Diet Coke in hand. "To talk about a film you really believe in is quite a rare occasion."

The film in question represents, in some ways, a turning point for Eddie Redmayne. First of all, he plays the role of a man rotten on the inside: the infamous American nurse Charles Cullen who murdered as many as 400 patients during the 1990s and early 2000s. Cullen murdered his victims by poisoning them with routine drugs such as insulin. His murderous rampage was consumed in slow motion, silent, insidious and, above all, incomprehensible. He was an experienced health professional, entrusted with the lives of the sick and infirm, but also a person considered by many to be deeply empathetic, committed and even funny. Nevertheless, the man who now lives in a New Jersey prison where he is serving 18 consecutive life sentences, remains the most prolific serial killer in US criminal history.


Cullen was a suicidal, alcoholic psychopath, the product of a lonely and violent childhood. In the film, elements of his past are barely hinted at, but never delved into, and for much of the film, Redmayne plays him in the form of an affable character dressed in the classic cardigan of the famous American TV Protestant pastor Mister Rogers. A nice guy, so to speak. Sequence after sequence, however, a decidedly more evil side emerges. 'Charlie really did have two opposing personalities in him,' Redmayne observes. Those who know him described him as 'dissociated' and as this emerged, his eyes went in different directions. "I spent about three days in the mirror trying to do that," Eddie Redmayne recalls laughing. "Finally, I thought, 'Fuck it' and did my version."

In the photos and videos, the serial killer appears as a beaten dog with dull eyes and clean-shaven ash-coloured hair. The 40-year-old Redmayne, on the other hand, is incredibly handsome, with competition cheekbones, full lips and a jawline worthy of entering the history of architectural masterpieces. Yet, in person, his features appear both delicate and exaggerated. This gives him a vaguely alien appearance and in the dark light of the film, where most of the scenes take place at night in the halls of a hospital, his resemblance to Cullen is uncanny.

In any case, the protagonist of The Good Nurse is Amy Loughren, a trusted friend and colleague of Cullen's who manages, step by step, to reconstruct the dynamics of his crimes and helps the police to frame him. In the film, Loughren is played by 2022 Oscar winner Jessica Chastain, who shapes a character with a wonderful mix of sensitivity, courage and fortitude. Although the script focuses on building complex characters and in Cullen's case dual personalities, it should not be forgotten that it is also a portrait of a healthcare system in crisis where a psychopathic monster can wreak havoc for many years, while his actions are covered up by a sclerotic medical establishment that fears the possibility of facing and losing a lawsuit more than the lives of its own patients. Despite the horrific nature of the subject matter, the film is extremely understated and most of the horror takes place off-screen. At the best moments, it can feel like an episode of American Crime Story directed by Robert Bresson.

The Good Nurse could not have come at a better time in Redmayne's artistic career. He had just finished playing the role of Newt Scamander, the kindly and awkward "Magizoologist" from the Fantastic Animals (Fantastic Beasts) franchise, for the third time and was longing to act on a smaller set. "It was really liberating for me," he confesses, "after having tried my hand at so many epic, high-impact films that can certainly be fun and spectacular, but make you lose touch with the human dimension and intimacy of the filmmaking process."

Right from the start, Redmayne was blown away by the script because it did not seem to fit into any genre stereotype in a predictable or pandering way. It was part thriller, part police investigation, but also part disturbing love story, and he loved it even more when he heard that Tobias Lindholm was directing. Redmayne had long wanted to work with the Danish director, best known for intense and very realistic dramas such as A War and the recent true-crime TV series The Investigation. "He has an extraordinary sense of morality," Redmayne points out. Lindholm, in turn, found in Redmayne a valuable ally, concerned with both the film's broader atmosphere and his own performance. "I think making a film is like being the coach of a football team," Lindholm explains. "Eddie is definitely one of those players you want in your locker room. Certainly on the pitch too, but his qualities in the locker room are second to none."

When Redmayne heard that the director was planning to cast Chastain in the role of Loughren, he was delighted. The two knew each other in the strange way that all actors do: meeting on talk show couches and at award ceremonies, but they had never acted together. "It can be awkward working with friends," says Redmayne. "A workplace is a particular and different space. You can get along when you're with family and then clash in work." The two, however, bonded immediately, partly because they have children of the same age and partly because of their attitude to working hard on a set. "Eddie is an incredibly talented actor," says Chastain, who first noticed him in the 2007 film Savage Grace, "above all he is very kind and respectful as a person. It was a fantastic experience for me to work with him'.

According to Redmayne, he and Chastain also share the same approach in the way they prepare their characters. "You have to do as much thorough detective work as possible," he says, "then you throw everything away and try to act alongside someone." In Redmayne's case, this process of investigation translated into reading and re-reading the film's source material, Charles Graeber's 2013 book of the same name, but also drawing on Graeber himself for his own source material: interviews, court documents and the like. It meant studying all the Cullen footage in circulation. The ideal would have been to talk to him directly but, alas, that was not possible. He had to settle for a connection via Zoom with the real Amy Loughren who is now a grandmother living in Florida.

For Redmayne, who has always been an avid student, getting into a part means putting himself through school every time. When he played Stephen Hawking in the film The Theory of Everything, which won him the aforementioned Oscar, he made an exemplary effort to ensure that his performance was as accurate as possible. He spent four months immersed in the life of his character, attended lengthy physics lectures that boggled his mind and managed to meet Hawking himself. There were weeks at a neurological clinic in London, where Redmayne interviewed dozens of patients, and several sessions with Alexandra Reynolds, a choreographer who helped him capture every specific detail of Hawking's physical deterioration due to ALS.


Before playing Cullen, Redmayne re-engaged Reynolds, who helped him analyse and then impersonate the nurse's characteristic stride and posture: 'it was kind of a question mark,' says the actor. He worked alongside a vocal coach to refine the slight New Jersey accent. Together with Chastain, he attended nursing school, where they spent two weeks learning how to effortlessly insert the PICC line into a vein and hang saline bags. "I was such a total klutz," he jokes. "You wouldn't want to see me rush to your rescue in a moment of crisis." On set, Redmayne would arrive early to have time to continue practising.

Such thorough preparation is obviously tiring and long. Not all actors are prepared for such a commitment. In Redmayne's case, however, it is synonymous with seriousness of purpose. It also functions as a lifeboat or seatbelt. "Some people need a short runway to take off," he explains. "Others need a long ramp. I have to have a very long one." In Graeber's book, the author describes Cullen as "self-effacing and vulnerable". This description also strangely fits Redmayne. The actor often mentions that he never went to acting school and tends to describe his entire career as a kind of happy accident. "I have no definite plan," he says, "I'm just improvising."

In fact, his words might even resonate as a strange form of boasting. Redmayne started, so to speak, from the top when he was only 11, thanks to a small role in a production of Oliver! starring Jonathan Pryce and directed by Sam Mendes. Then, while still at Eton, she played Viola in a Globe anniversary production of Twelfth Night, starring and directed by Mark Rylance. His best-known early film roles were Hawking and, a year later, the transgender artist Lili Elbe in the film The Danish Girl, which earned him, at the age of 30, countless nominations for the most prestigious awards. The Theory of Everything, for instance, also earned him a BAFTA and a Golden Globe. After these two films, he seemed to be well on his way to becoming his generation's answer to Daniel Day-Lewis or Ralph Fiennes.

His participation in the 2016 film Fantastic Animals and Where to Find Them somewhat set him back from that path. Suddenly, Eddie Redmayne found himself in the Harry Potter franchise, a high-budget production with big special effects, starring the likes of Jude Law, Johnny Depp and Mads Mikkelsen. What kind of preparation is required to play the part of a Magizoologist? It is not possible to enrol on a crash course at Hogwarts. Redmayne does not express himself in these terms, of course. When talking about the Harry Potter spin-off film series, he is very accommodating and generous. 'The moment I agreed to enter that kind of universe,' he says, 'I knew I was going to end up inside a mechanism that was much bigger than me. It has given me so much and I have loved acting alongside some of the most talented and brilliant actors in the world. The possibility of continuing to work with them every two years, in an industry that is nomadic and circus-like, was an extraordinary experience of continuity'. An undoubted advantage on a human level he says, not necessarily on an acting level. It has been a fun journey, but perhaps not the ideal place to continue learning. "The thing I'm sure of is that me and comfort don't get along very well," says Redmayne. "So I'm always trying to go beyond the boundaries of my comfort zone." Fantastic Animals has also been plagued by some controversy of an extracurricular nature: J.K. Rowling's outrageous views on gender identity, Depp's defamation case, Ezra Miller's recent arrests, and a drop in box office results. Although Redmayne doesn't want to talk about all that, the decision to focus on more intimate films like The Good Nurse is the best response.

In the course of our conversation, Redmayne reflected on his own creative ambiguity, his 'cynicism' and 'pessimism'. When I ask him where this way of feeling comes from, he is careful not to attribute it to any particular project, but struggles to pinpoint its true source. 'Acting is a strange mix of control and freedom,' he points out, choosing his words. "When you start making a film, you lose control a bit. You become a cog. You can work on the script for years, but there comes a time when you have to give yourself up and that's a complex thing, you know? At best, you do it with someone you trust and it makes you feel completely free. But it doesn't always work like that'.

While Redmayne has always tried his best, he has also, by his own admission, worked very little. Now, thanks to Cabaret and The Good Nurse, he probably expects to work even less. "This year has served to make me more demanding," he comments, bursting out laughing again. Unlike most artists, he is not sure what he will be up to in the future. However, after finally working with a friend, he would like to do it again. Maybe with one of his long-time British colleagues, like Ben Whishaw and Andrew Garfield. Maybe together with his co-star in Cabaret, Jessie Buckley. Or, he ventures, even in a comedy, the kind of film where it might come in handy to have attended clown school. "I got my act together," he concludes, "and rediscovered the love for my work that I had perhaps lost a bit."


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